Unsettling State: Non-Citizens, Citizenship and State Power in the United Arab Emirates
Lori, Noora Anwar
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This dissertation examines the development and enforcement of citizenship and immigration policies in the United Arab Emirates in order to revisit an enduring puzzle in comparative politics: why are resource-rich states resiliently authoritarian? The dominant explanation for the ‘oil curse’ assumes that authoritarianism emerges because regimes ‘purchase’ the political acquiescence of their citizens by redistributing rents. However, prior to the redistribution of rents comes the much more fundamental question of who will be included in the group of beneficiaries. I argue that oil facilitates the creation of authoritarian power structures because when political elites gain control over fixed assets, they can more effectively erect high barriers to political incorporation. By combining stringent citizenship policies with temporary worker programs, political elites develop their resources while concentrating the redistribution of assets to a very small percentage of the total population. In the UAE, this policy combination has been so effective that non-citizens now comprise 96 percent of the domestic labor force. The boundaries of the UAE’s citizenry became increasingly stringent as oil production was converted into revenue in the 1960s. Since oil reserves are unevenly distributed across the emirates, the political elites who signed concessions with successful oil prospectors have since monopolized control over the composition of the citizenry. As a result, domestic minorities who were previously incorporated by smaller emirates who did not discover oil have since been excluded from the citizenry. The enforcement of stringent citizenship and temporary worker policies led to the growth of an extensive security apparatus. This apparatus prevents the formation of horizontal ties by seeding out political dissidence and labor strikes through the deportation or denaturalization of agitators. The vast majority of the population is now not necessarily temporary, but permanently deportable.